Why I love to make generous platters

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Why I love to make generous platters

A large platter of Sam Woulidge’s Ottolenghi-inspired salad means everyone at her table can help themselves to seconds – no permission required

I think I have bought every book written by Yotam Ottolenghi. I may not often actually cook from them but I read them obsessively and look at the pictures. And two thoughts always come up: I wish that a) cooking was as effortless for me as it is for others, and b) I hadn’t been such a cow to Jacques that icy day in January 2011 when we had brunch at Ottolenghi in Islington, London.

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I had dragged him there, wanting him to experience all that I had read about this incredible chef. And yes, the food was as delicious and the styling as beautiful as I had hoped. I loved every mouthful of warm, nourishing flavours, every bite of salad, every crumb of the buttery toast that I made for myself at the communal toaster on the long table where we sat. I was well-fed and blissed out, enjoying the company of the man I love and keenly anticipating the last morsel of what was either a raspberry tea cake or a plum-and-marzipan muffin (if the pictures in my first Ottolenghi book serve me well). I do remember that it was crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Just the way I like it. I had saved the last bite, the best bite, to eat at the end of the feast, when Jacques casually leaned over, took it and shoved it in his mouth.

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I was incandescent with rage. It didn’t help when he, not understanding my meltdown, offered to order me another cake. I didn’t want another whole cake, I wanted the bit that I had saved. The bit that was now gone. Yes, of course, food must be shared, but there are limits. The last bite of cake should not be eaten carelessly. And you can never take something off someone else’s plate without asking. In fact, it’s rude even to ask.

It should always be offered. And that is why I like generous platters of food, platters so large that everyone feels that they can help themselves to however much they want and still go back for seconds, if only for just “that last bite”. No need to steal from someone else’s plate. Not at my table. So in the spirit of sharing and long tables and generosity, I turn to Ottolenghi to provide the inspiration for salads when we entertain friends. Jacques and I share the responsibility of entertaining because I get flustered if I have too many pots on the stove. We have learned to keep things simple. Some lamb chops on the braai or a fillet in the oven and I’ll make salads that can be pre-prepared and assembled at the last minute.

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Our pearl barley, parsley, feta and cashew nut salad with heavy hints of cumin, garlic and lemon is the perfect accompaniment to most things. It’s a tabbouleh of sorts, but not quite. The fact that parsley is the hero is a novelty for me because, of all the ingredients I am usually most likely to forget or deliberately omit, it is always the parsley. Yet here I am loving a salad consisting of loads of what I normally consider to be a garnish. But I also double up the ingredients I like – I have a heavy hand with the cashews and feta. It’s not the only salad on my table but it is one of my favourites. And no, it’s not quite up there with a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside last bite of cake. But then, a few things are. And of course, a meal at our house will always end with something sweet. But you need to eat your greens first.

Get the recipe for Sam’s pearl barely-and-feta salad here.

Photograph: Jan Ras
Production: Bianca Strydom 

Sam Woulidge Article by: Sam Woulidge

Cape Town-based writer Sam Woulidge is a regular TASTE columnist, blogger and author of 'Confessions of a Hungry Woman'. Follow her on Twitter @samwoulidge

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